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Committee on church growth discusses role of union churches, increasing diversity

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"Lucy in the sky with diamonds" echoed down the hall from Committee 15 early Monday morning at the 219th General Assembly (2010). Presbyterians passing by peaked into the room and a few said, “I wish I was in that group!” The 55 members gathered in the room to consider overtures and reports regarding church growth, Christian education and the Presbyterian Investment & Loan Program, Inc.

From their initial meeting, they committed to “traveling light.” The committee’s vice moderator, the Rev. Tom Letts, said their subject matter and brief agenda allowed them to base their meetings on spirituality and relationships, letting business be the fruit of the former.

Philip Lotspeich, coordinator of Church Growth Ministries for the General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC), said, “Sessions aren’t necessarily fulfilling the fullness of their call. The session is a body of elders whose primary job is discernment. We must ask the question, ‘God, what are you up to in this community, and how can we serve with you there?’”

The committee considered business items about union churches – the benefits of a union church as opposed to a strictly Presbyterian congregation, how members are counted and how the sacraments are celebrated. James Cory, executive presbyter at Western Colorado Presbytery, and Lynn Smit, stated clerk of the Presbytery of Plains and Peaks, agreed that forming a union is a good option for churches in rural areas and for congregations losing members to neighboring churches. Smit said, “It is a [financial] necessity for many smaller churches to survive and have a pastoral presence in the community.”

The committee also looked at three additional items on the involvement of racial ethnic members in congregations, leadership roles and denominational staff. Continuing to wonder where God is at work, committee members voiced concern over the failure to meet a goal achieving 20 percent racial ethnic diversity among PC(USA) membership, set by the 212th General Assembly (1996) and 213th General Assembly (1998).

The Rev. Rhashell Hunter, director of Racial Ethnic and Women’s Ministries/Presbyterian Women for the GAMC, said it wasn’t the job of a committee to diversify the church, but “it is the job of members and commissioners.”